white welcome chicken of purity
Lucky for that chicken, Duane was the one vegan on the team.

We’re sitting cross-legged and tightly-packed on a straw mat inside a tiny house in this remote village of Flores, Indonesia. Our team of 12 has been warmly welcomed by Pak Bomas, the kind-hearted village chief.

Bare bones infrastructure. No running water. But what these people lack in public utilities they make up for in overflowing hospitality. We’ve been offered local snacks, traditional drinks and we got a handshake from a group of elderly, hunched-over village ladies who are all wearing their traditional Flores fabrics. One teammate later said it felt like in that moment we were being received by royalty. Their wide smiles were dripping with the red dye of the beetle nut, a bark mixed with powder that they chew in their mouths as a mild drug. 

royaltyWe’ve exchanged our gifts, they have given theirs, and now we are in the back-and-forth phase of polite chit-chat and learning of each others’ cultures. They tell us the history of their village, and we tell them we have come from a long way because we love Jesus and He loves them. We play a worship song for them and they reciprocate with a traditional one. We offer to pray for them and they readily accept.

Toward the end, we can tell by some sort of commotion in the back of the house that they are getting ready to do something big or ceremonious.

Out comes Pak Bomas from the back, with a live chicken in his hand. He pets its head and explains to us that the white chicken represents purity, showing that their hearts are pure in extending friendship to us.

village floresHe then looks around for someone on our team to give it to, and his eyes settle on Duane who is the oldest member of our team (maybe it’s the grey beard…mine is greying, too, but Duane’s is farther along). As I said before, Duane is the only vegan on the team, and we kidded him later that the chicken seemed relieved to be under his care.

Such a surreal moment, receiving this nervous and quietly clucking chicken. It made me laugh inside, feeling like I was in some sort of wacky Jim Carrey movie, and I joke-translated to the side, “Hey guys, the good news is they are offering us this live chicken as a sign of their pure heart in receiving us. The bad news is one of us has to stay behind in order to reciprocate.”

And you may be thinking now what I was thinking then…what does one do with a live chicken?

After more chatting, taking photos and saying our goodbyes, it was time to climb into our van and head back down the mountain for a one hour-ride toward the city where our hotel was located. They offered to tie up the chicken’s legs and put it upside down into the back of our van, but Duane says no need, he will hold it in the van.

We got back to our hotel and the staff received our live offering with joy. We weren’t sure what they were going to do with it (which form of protein), and we didn’t ask too many questions. They assured us they would take good care of her.

The whole episode, aside from being surreal, struck me with how great Indonesians are at hospitality. These village people dropped everything they were doing to honor us as guests, and gave us a live chicken to boot! That little gift of hospitality cost them something…these people were very poor from what we could see, and that chicken was a real part of their livelihoods. Yet they willingly and cheerfully gave it to us.

chiken at hotelHospitality does cost us something, and I think that’s why our Western culture isn’t as good at it as Eastern ones. “Tamu adalah raja,” they say in Indonesia, “The guest is king.” Living there for a long time, I remember so many times being frustrated when someone came to our front gate, unannounced, and feeling the culture dictate to drop everything I was doing and receive this person into our home, offer refreshments, and chat for a while—the whole while grumbling internally about the other things I was planning on doing in that time slot. It was a slow, painful death for my Type A personality.

But a good death. “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it” (Hebrews 13:2). God certainly values hospitality, actually factoring angels into the equation of a math that sometimes doesn’t make sense to us.

When was the last time you offered the white welcome chicken of purity to your guests? (Okay, that is really hard to say with a straight face). Let me rephrase:

When is the last time hospitality cost you something?

I’m not sure the answer for me either, but I imagine that angels take good care of chickens.

— Mike O’Quin, author of Java Wake and Growing Desperate

white chicken

Just Jump

skydiving“Are my straps on tight enough?”

“Yes, they’re fine,” Robby answers calmly, not seeming to really check.  “The important thing to remember is just relax.”

“And what do I do with my hands?  Do I leave them out or fold them across my chest?”

“Either way is fine.  The important thing to remember is just relax.”

Easy for him to say.  For my bored skydiving instructor this is just another day at the office.  For me this is my first time to jump out of an airplane at 10,000 feet.  I’m looking through the oval window of this small rumbling plane, and the ground looks very, very, very far away.   And these straps don’t feel tight enough.  Is it possible to slip out of this harness and plunge to my death?

I didn’t get much from Robby in the form of proper skydiving technique, although I did sign plenty of waivers before my tandem dive.  The one thing he kept telling me besides relax is to not grab on to the side of the door when it’s time to jump.  Just jump.

This is a fun day splurge for my son and I for his 18th birthday.  We were joking about the experience down on the ground but now up here my feeling is one more of abject terror.

Seasoned instructors are strapped to their inexperienced divers, straddling two long benches inside the plane.  We get the signal that we are at 10,000 feet.  Their advertising promised between 8,000 and 14,000 feet and 20 seconds of straight free fall before the instructors pull the cord.  By now I am thinking I would have gladly paid for lower altitude and less drop.

Robby and I awkwardly scoot forward together.  He’s going to be riding piggy back all the way down and doing all the important stuff like pulling the cord of the parachute and making sure we land right side up.  I’ll do my part to pray we don’t die.

My son goes first.  Out the door with his instructor in a nanosecond.  Poof, he’s gone.  I can’t even catch a glimpse of him on his free fall down.

One more diver then it’s my turn.  “Just relax,” Robby says one last time. 

This is it.  This is the moment.  We are right at the door now, looking down at terra firma so far below.

Wait a minute.  This is not the moment.  This is a horrible mistake.  Airplanes were not made to jump out of.  I instinctively grab the sides of the door.

“Let go,” Robbie screams in my hear. “Let go.”

No turning back now.  I unclasp my hands from the sides of the door and we drop like two rocks tied together.

The plunge.  20 seconds of sheer…what is this…I thought this would be awful but it’s kind of invigorating.  Fun even.  Flying through the air like superman.

He pulls the chute and we slow down, gliding to the landing spot together.  I’m immensely enjoying the beautiful scenery.  I can’t wait to get back to the ground and share the experience with Caleb.  Exhilarating.  That was a blast.

The once-in-a-lifetime experience for me had spiritual analogy written all over it.            

Jesus called Peter to step out of the boat and walk on the water toward Him.  The story is so important it is recorded three times in the Gospels:  Matthew 14, Mark 6 and John 6.  The Lord didn’t give Peter much in the way of instructions or waivers to sign.  

“Come,” He said. 

We give Peter a hard time for losing concentration and sinking so fast.  But hey, at least he tried.  For those brief nanoseconds a human being actually walked on water.

When Jesus saw what happened He said, “You of little faith.  Why did you doubt?”

I don’t imagine Jesus saying that with disdain in his voice, like Peter, you’re such a loser.  But more like, Peter, you have a little faith.  Not bad.  Now keep your eye on Me and you won’t sink next time.

Keep listening to your Instructor say relax.  Or in olden language, peace be unto you.  And don’t grab on to the sides of the door.

Just jump and enjoy.

 

— Mike O’Quin, author of Java Wake and Growing Desperate